Every day that Jimmy Romans wakes up inside the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, he feels like pinching himself. Before the 45-year-old was sentenced to life without parole in 2013 for conspiring to distribute marijuana, he “never thought such a thing was possible.”

“I still wake up and can’t believe it. I have to believe it because I’m here, but sometimes I just can’t,” Romans told Civilized during one of his allotted 15-minute phone calls.

“I have to keep telling myself that this place is where I am, not who I am... I sold some marijuana, I did do that, but the punishment just doesn’t fit the crime.”

 Jimmy Romans

Jimmy Romans

Romans believes that if more people discovered what he had to learn the hard way, the fate of he and his uncounted fellow "marijuana lifers" would perhaps be very different.

Save for advocacy groups like the Marijuana Lifer Project, few Americans actually know it’s possible to get a life sentence for a nonviolent cannabis charge, believes Romans.

“I think the biggest problem is that society doesn’t know this is happening,” he said.

“If you ask almost anybody in the United States whether it’s possible to get a life sentence for murder, they’re going to say yes. Ask those same 340 million if you can get a life sentence for marijuana and I would expect they’d say ‘no’... People just don’t realize this can happen.”  

Despite the lifetime behind bars lying before him, Romans is determined to stay optimistic, if only for the sake of his still-stunned family who he claims have “lost all faith in the judicial system.”

“I feel that I have to stay strong for my family and stay grounded through these crazy times because I don’t want them to think...” said Romans, trailing off before repeating the words, “I need to stay strong.”

“Some days it’s hard,” he added. “There are a lot of people who don’t stay positive, who end up getting in a lot of trouble... I have to have faith that one day the doors will open for me.”

When asked if there’s one message he’d like to transmit to the outside world, Romans urges people to get educated on some of the lesser-known goings-on of their own justice system.  

“Everyone who finds out I have this sentence for a marijuana charge is flabbergasted... I just wish it would go mainstream, that everybody would know,” he said.

“That would be a blessing because then eyes would be opened, not necessarily to advocate for my release, but to advocate for the federal government to get out of everyone’s business... they’re over-reaching their boundaries and they’re doing it because they can get away with it.”